For nearly 45 minutes following Gainesville High’s summer workout Thursday, seniors Tai-ler Jones and Chris West worked on their speed by donning a 20-pound weighted vest and running 60-yard sprints.
That’s just a glimpse of what this year’s Red Elephants are doing this summer to prepare for a more successful season in 2009.
With workouts starting every morning at 6:30, Gainesville is training and trying to forget how its season came to what most people around the program think was a premature ending.
"I think the way last year ended left us with that feeling that we could have gone further," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said, referring to the Red Elephants’ 28-14 loss to Carver-Columbus in the third round of the Class AAA state playoffs. "We felt good about our season, but we didn’t feel that we accomplished everything we needed to accomplish."
With a roster full of playmakers, including three Division-I verbal commitments (quarterback Blake Sims, Alabama; Jones and safety Daunte Carr, Stanford), Gainesville has been touted as one of the teams to beat in 2009 and they’re using that loss from last year as motivation.
"We don’t want to have that feeling again," Sims said. "We want to end our season with a happy feeling, not a bad feeling like last year."
In order to make that happen, the Red Elephants are putting in the much-needed work in the summer.
"We’re getting our reps in and we’re doing good," running back Devon Pierce said. "It’s important to get strong and prevent injuries."
According to Miller, the conditioning and teaching that takes place over the summer is the foundation of building a championship-caliber team.
"You’ve got to be in condition when the season starts or close to it," Miller said. "It used to be, you didn’t do anything until August. You weight lifted and that was it.
"Now if you don’t do some Xs and Os and work on the field, you’re usually behind when you start in August."
Gainesville puts those teachings to work in the several 7-on-7 passing tournaments it has competed in this summer. The team, which was playing without Jones due to an injury, struggled early in those tournaments, but Jones came back prior to the Metro Atlanta Tournament, which Gainesville won on a last-second touchdown from Sims to Jones.
"Winning was great for morale, but I think we needed the humbling experience that we got," Miller said. "We needed to say, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be easy.’"
Although winning provided confidence, Miller knows it didn’t mean anything.
"The biggest things about those leagues is working on the timing and the chemistry," he said. "The passing leagues help, but I don’t worry about success in those things because I’ve yet to see a team win a state championship in shorts."
Miller’s team has an opportunity to have more success in a passing league, as Gainesville was one of eight teams to be invited to the Nike 7-on-7 Tournament next Thursday and Friday in Beaverton, Ore. The Red Elephants are hoping to be competitive and possibly win the national tournament, but Miller and his players know that the most important thing will be using the all-expense paid trip as a means for improving their already solid team chemistry.
"It’s just as tight as it has been," Miller said of the closeness of his players.
"Everybody outside this team looks at certain people, but we don’t," Sims said. "We look for everybody to make plays."
That chemistry combined with the diligent workouts has the Gainesville senior quarterback anxious to get the season started.
"I think we look better than last year," Sims said. "I think we’ll be ready to put on a show on Friday nights."